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Space Exploration and Mars

Period: 8-14 February 2021

This is an exciting time in Space Exploration as we look forward to three special Mars events happening in the next few weeks.

Join us on our journey to explore Mars and learn what the future for space travel holds.

NASA Perseverance Rover
NASA Perseverance Rover




Did you research Mars during space week?

  • It has a thick outer crust
  • The crust consists of 2 or 3 layers
  • Scientist estimate there are about 35 km between the crust and the mantle
  • It is thought the mantle is cooler
  • Mars has a metallic molten-liquid core

Remember during Earth week we found out about our planets layers!

Can you remember that Mars is known as the "red planet" - This is not because it is warm. It is a cold planet and we know seasons happen just like on Earth. Scientists have observed polar ice caps and volcanoes, and they have even seen changes in the weather.

So why are we always sending lander type vehicles to Mars?

Did you know that there have been 16 Mars Landers and some of them have had sub-landers on board? Not all of them have succeeded sadly, which is made worse by the length of time they take to get there.

There is a small window of opportunity for the journey to begin as there is only one month when Mars and Earth are in the same orbit - the only time they are close enough! It takes 7-10 months to get from Earth to Mars - that’s quite a long time to be waiting to see if the lander you have been involved in building actually makes it to the surface of Mars - do you think these scientists will be working on the next version as they wait?

Of course, they will - new technology and different methods are being discovered and invented daily so they will not be just waiting to see what happens they will be making improvements and changes to the next version! It is also important that the opportunity is not missed to send your lander or satellite to Mars - you may have to wait over two years until conditions are good enough to try again.

Before we look at the three space missions that are due to reach Mars very soon let us take a wee trip back to find out about two very successful landers - the Mars Rovers!

These little guys - Spirit and Opportunity - landed on Mars in January 2004 and they lasted much longer than anyone could have hoped for. They were expected to last around 90 days and Opportunity was still going 15 years later!

How We Landed On Mars With NASA Spirt

Watch this video to see how excited all the engineers and scientist are when a Rover lands successfully!

Each rover bounced onto the surface inside a landing craft protected by airbags. When they settled the airbags were let down and the landing craft opened. The rovers were then able to take panoramic images and send them back to geologist to allow them to carry out specialised calculations and research to find out just what conditions have been like on Mars over many many years.

So what did they find out?

  • Long ago Mars was wetter
  • Mars may have been able to sustain microbial life!
  • There used to be flowing water
  • The climate was warmer
  • There was evidence of salty water

Although this does not seem very exciting and no Martians were spotted (so far) - this is extremely important if at any time there will be the chance for humans to travel to Mars.

If you were going to design a Mars lander what would you include?

Why not have a go - check out this video to get some hints and tips! The second video gives you a history of all the robots on Mars!

Destination Mars
Destination Mars (from Fun Kids)

Send us your designs. You may even win a prize! You could even build yours with whatever you can find in the recycle box or out of Lego or Knex.

Enter Competition

Mars This Month

What's happening over the next two weeks?

Three space missions are due to reach Mars very soon - keep a watch on the news for updates.

Mars Satellite (Tuesday 9 February)

The first one is on Tuesday 9 February and was built by the United Arab Emirates and is a satellite that will transmit data back to Earth. Its job will be to monitor the weather system and what the atmosphere is made up of so we can hopefully further develop our knowledge of climate change.

See to watch live and you can also see it's journey Track Hope Probe Live (which is a great way to understand the path all missions to Mars travel).

Mars Rover Tainwen-1 (Wednesday 10 February)

China has also launched a Mars Rover Tainwen-1 - which means the quest for heavenly truth. Although it will enter Mars orbit around Wednesday 10 February it will not land on Mars until May. It plans to search for underground water and evidence of possible ancient life! This spacecraft consists of an orbiter and a lander - the lander will hopefully travel around the planet surface for around three months, but the orbiter will hopefully be hanging around for two years.

Mars Perseverance (Thursday 18 February)

NASA's most recent Mars mission left Earth at the end of July last year and will land on Mars a week on (Thursday 18 February) - yes next week! How exciting. As we found out more than half of all missions to Mars have not succeeded with crash landings or blowing up as they enter the atmosphere. The team working in this area are learning all the time and improving and modifying their designs so hopefully, this mission will be successful. Don’t forget to watch live!

NASA's Perseverance Rover has 19 cameras on board so the images it will send back to Earth will hopefully be outstanding! We should be able to see the landing - Don’t forget to watch!

Watch Landing Live

Perseverance has a mini-helicopter on board called Ingenuity, and it will be the first rotorcraft (a rotary winged aircraft) to fly on another planet. It will be powered by a solar panel and will have a wee camera on board.

The main mission for Perseverance is to sample rocks with the hope they can be brought back to Earth. Searching for ancient signs of microbial life is of course, the main area of interest!

Don't forget to try the 3D model of the NASA Perseverance Rover below (you can zoom in and out to see more detail).

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Is Living On Mars Hard?

Can you think what sort of problem Perseverance may come up against on its Mission to Mars?

What about craters - some are known to be quite deep and full of rocks and boulder which could be problematic.

Read ESA's Mars' Valleys and Volcanoes information to see what you can learn.

The dust could be an issue - it gets very dusty on Mars and it could block the solar panels or get into the instruments.

Can you think if anything else?

Space Travel - Then & Now

Space travel has changed a lot over the years. In 1926, a man named Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket into space. Since then, technology has changed a lot, but today, we still use rockets to launch into space!

Download our 100 Years of Spacecraft which show you a timeline of spacecraft development over the last 100 years.

Spacecraft is continually changing and adapting. Check out the links below to discover more history about the Space Race and how rockets work.

YouTube Video: Rockets 101

Would you like to build your own rocket? Why not watch the video below and follow our instructions (Fizzy Rocket Launch) to learn how.

Fizzy Rocket Instruction Video Courtesy of The Royal Institution and Royal Society of Chemistry

If you like playing cards, then please try making your own Space First Trump Cards (PDF) from The National Space Centre.

Space Race
Space Race Timeline Royal Museums Greenwich
100 Years of Spacecraft
100 Years of Spacecraft (PDF)
Fizzy Rocket Launch
Fizzy Rocket Launch (PDF)
Space First Trump Cards
Space First Trump Cards (PDF) The National Space Centre

Future Space Travel

The great thing about technology is it is always changing and adapting and getting better. For instance, we built rockets. Then, we built rockets that could carry instruments. Then, we sent those rockets into space. Then, we put people in those rockets. Then, we built a space station in space! What’s next?

Well, it turns out, quite a lot! Currently, the European Space Agency (ESA) is working with partners of the International Space Station to build the new lunar Gateway – a new space station that will orbit around the Moon. This will allow astronauts and scientists to study the Moon and provide a stopping point (in the future) between Earth and Mars. It will also help scientists develop the kind of protection humans will need in deep space (away from the protection of the Earth’s magnetic shield).

Another near-futuristic likelihood is lunar habitation – that is, living on the Moon! For now, it would only temporarily – to do research, but there is a possibility of making more permanent moon habitats further into the future. ESA has already drafted a concept for a Moon Village, and NASA has plans to lay the infrastructure for a moon habitat in 2024. China, Japan, and Russia all have plans, as well, to build lunar surface habitats or bases in the next ten years.

Follow our Build Your Own Moon Habitat worksheet to build your very own Moon base.

Space tourism is another near-future possibility. Virgin Galactic has already brought five civilians to the edge of space and plans to open up space tourism for many more this year. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, and Orion Span are other companies looking to capitalise on space tourism as well.

Do you think we should put money into human or robotic space exploration?

Watch this video from Royal Museums Greenwich and let us know what you think!

Human or robotic space exploration?
Human or Robotic Space Exploration? - Royal Museums Greenwich
ESA – Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration Future
Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration Future (ESA)
Future ESA Moon Village Habitat
Future ESA Moon Village Habitat Architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has designed a semi-inflatable four-level Moon Village habitat. The four-person crew quarters would be on the ground floor to maximise radiation protection.
Build Your Own Moon Habitat<
Build Your Own Moon Habitat (PDF)

UK Spaceports

Here in the UK, we’re really good at making small satellites. These satellites are used for telecommunications (such as mobile phones), remote sensing (used for disaster response) and even climate change.

The problem is, we don’t have anywhere to launch them in the country, so we have to take them somewhere else to send them into space.

Until now! Currently, there are seven possible spaceports in the works:

  • Sutherland, Scotland
  • Shetland, Scotland
  • Western Isles, Scotland
  • Campbeltown, Scotland
  • Prestwick, Scotland
  • Newquay, Cornwall
  • Snowdonia, Wales

These spaceports have been chosen because they are near the coast, away from large populations, and the first three listed are the only three considered for vertical launches. The last four will launch horizontally like an aeroplane. The plane will carry a rocket or other spaceplane up high into the atmosphere where it will then launch from the aircraft and then return to Earth.

UK Spaceflight Programme

What does this mean for us? Lots of jobs! In the next 5-10 years, the UK will need workers to help build, manage, and launch these spaceports! That means you! Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities coming to you, and you might be the next chapter in the UK’s space industry history!

Destination Space
UK Association for Science and Discovery
UK Space Agency
Launch UK
Proposed UK Spaceports
Proposed UK Spaceports (Select To Enlarge)
What Will Spaceports Look Like
What Will Spaceports Look Like? (Fun Kids Live)
Build a Satellite Activity (PDF) (Maker’s Lab from Festival)

Also see our other Home Learning Topics information and our Learning Resources.

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